She cradles her newborn as she breastfeeds her, a tender moment that should bring her nothing but contentment and pride. Instead Elina Maseko’s eyes are brimming with tears. She can’t stop thinking about how close she came to losing her baby when she gave birth to her in the street – right outside the gates of a clinic in Pretoria.
Elina (47) also can’t forget how thenurses allegedly turned her away that Sunday night, refusing to admit her even though she was in full labour. The indignity and humiliation of giving birth in public – in full view of passers-by – and the terror of thinking she would lose her child, will be with her forever, she tells us when we visit mom and baby in their Mamelodi East home.
“This incident hurt me so much,” Elina says, tears running down her face as she looks down at her baby, Precious. The baby is named after Elina’s niece, Sibongile Precious Morudu (28), who was by her aunt’s side on the street and helped deliver the baby.
“I didn’t know what I was doing,” Sibongile says, “but with God’s grace I managed.”
The nurses wouldn’t allow Elina into the clinic, she adds, even though she was clearly in distress. Why? Because of her age.
“The [nurses] started shouting, saying they wouldn’t help her because she was too high risk. They threw her clinic card at us and told us to go to Mamelodi Regional Hospital.”
As the women left the clinic, confused and scared, Elina’s water broke and she began screaming for help. Sibongile pleaded with the nurses but was again told to go to the hospital.
“I helped my aunt sit down and then I saw the baby’s head coming out. I took off my jacket to protect the baby from falling on the pavement or getting cold. I told her ‘push’ and she did. She was crying in pain,” Sibongile says.
“Before I knew it the baby was out and still no one had come to assist us. I took the baby from between her thighs and folded my jacket around her.”
Elina didn’t expect any problems with the birth as she’d been going for regular checkups at the clinic in her area. She also had four other children so she wasn’t new to pregnancy and childbirth.
On the Sunday night she went into labour, she and Sibongile asked a neighbor to drive them to Mamelodi Regional Hospital, where she’d been scheduled to deliver her baby, but on the way the car ran out of petrol.
Desperate, the two women hailed a taxi to the nearest clinic, Stanza Bopape II Clinic in Mamelodi East. They arrived at 8 pm and were allegedly told to go to Mamelodi Regional Hospital. The nurses gave no explanation as to why they refused to help Elina, apart from saying she was high risk, Sibongile claims.
A pregnant woman is considered “geriatric” or of “advanced maternal age” if she falls pregnant after the age of 34. These pregnancies are often classified as high risk due to the increased risk of premature birth, stillbirth, chromosomal defects in the baby and labour complications.
After the baby was born outside the clinic gates, Sibongile placed the crying child on Elina’s chest, with the umbilical cord attached. She then ran back inside the clinic with a security guard who had watched the birth. They told the nurses Elina had given birth, and only then were they allowed into the clinic.
However, the humiliation didn’t end there, the women claim. The nurses allegedly shouted at Sibongile, accusing her of endangering the lives of her aunt and the newborn.
“They said I could’ve given them an infection because I used my bare hands to hold the baby. But my fear was the baby would fall on the pavement and die. I had to do something,”
Mom and baby stayed overnight at the clinic and were transferred to Mamelodi Regional Hospital the following day. They were discharged a few days later.
Elina’s husband, Thomas Rakhavha (50), is furious about what happened. “I didn’t expect this from the clinic as it’s a facility that’s supposed to help the community,” he says.
“Someone has to be held accountable for this,” adds Thomas, who works as a bartender in Pretoria. “We are broken by this and those responsible must answer.”
He is, however, happy with the new addition to their family. The couple have four other children – Lettie (28), Peter (23), Josephine (19) and Angela (9), who all dote on their little sister.
“The pregnancy came as a surprise but we embraced it,” Thomas says, “but we didn’t think such a hurtful delivery would happen.”
Sibongile and the Mamelodi Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) reported the incident at the Mamelodi East police station.
Bobby Mohanoe, the chairperson of the Mamelodi TAC, says Elina’s alleged treatment is in contravention of the National Health Act. The TAC wants the nurses to be reported to the South African Nursing Council and fired.
“We plan to interact with the department of health to start an internal disciplinary hearing as soon as they have finalized their internal investigations. We will also ensure that the family receives counselling and we’ll keep on supporting the family until the matter is finalised,” Mohanoe says.
The TAC has also reported the case to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) “for a human rights violation investigation and we’re looking at a civil litigation compensation claim”, Mohanoe says.
After visiting the clinic, Buang Jones, provincial manager of the SAHRC, said it was facing “many challenges”. He said some nurses were burnt out and there is no doctor at the facility.
“The maternity ward is too small. There is no filing system. There are staff shortages. The maternity ward only has eight beds. There are only two midwives and a student nurse. There is no administrative support and they have only one computer,” Jones told the media after his inspection.
The department of health has assured the family that investigations are under way and that its district office has also launched an investigation. District manager Mothomone Pitsi has apologised to the family.
“This is not how we manage patients. Even if this mother was high risk, the expectation would have been for her to be examined properly and then an ambulance called to take her to a hospital,” Pitsi says.
He’s promised that a team of labour relations officials will investigate and report back within a month with a recommended course of action. Until then, Elina is trying to come to terms with what happened to her.
“I didn’t deserve that treatment. No one does,” she says.